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Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 3 – 12 August

Well, that’s the back of the gansey finished and about two-thirds of the front. Another week would normally see the shoulders joined, but I’m flying down to the Midlands on Monday for my mother’s funeral and my bag is already pretty heavy.

Carvings in Dunnet Forest

To take my mind off things I’ve been listening to music a lot recently. Now that the lyrics of just about every song ever written are posted on the internet, I finally realised that I’ve been mis-hearing songs for decades. I don’t mean the jokey “mis-hearings” which are intentionally, aha, funny. (Does anyone seriously think John Lennon is singing “The girl with colitis goes by”, or Bob Dylan “The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind”? On the whole I rather doubt it). No, mine are simply honest mistakes.

Take Paul Simon’s classic song, Fifty Ways To leave Your Lover, the one that goes “You just slip out the back, Jack/ Make a new plan, Stan”, etc. For years I thought Lee was being advised to drop off the quay—to, you know, go down to the harbour, jump in the ocean and swim to freedom. I thought this was a great image. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it was the far more mundane, “Drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free”. This particular Lee probably had to wait for a bus. I bet it was running late, too, due to some kind of engine trouble, and he had to stand as all the seats were taken.

Another one is Jethro Tull’s classic track, Jack in the Green. I have no words for how much I love this song, have done ever since I bought the album back in 1977 (the first proper album I ever bought). The Jack in the Green is a traditional English May Day folk tradition; it’s basically someone inside a wicker frame all decked with greenery, looking like a cross between a yeti from Doctor Who and a hedge. It’s a bittersweet song that addresses Jack as an earth spirit who’s threatened by modern life: “Or will these changing times/ Motorways, power lines/ Keep us apart?/ Well I don’t think so/ I saw some grass growing through the pavement today”. Anyway, there’s a line I’ve always heard as “He’s played across, whispers Jack-in-the-Green”. Now, the phrase “to play across” comes from cricket, and it’s when a batsman hits to left or right instead playing the ball back straight ahead of him, in line. It’s very risky, but can bring great rewards. It always struck me as a great line, a perfect image in the context of the song: humanity has put the whole environment at risk for the benefits of modern life, and all nature can do is watch. But no: it turns out the line is, “Each blade of grass whispers Jack-in-the-Green”. Oh. I mean, it’s OK; it’s just not as good as the line I heard in my head.

Sarclet Harbour, near Wick

And, if I’m honest, this is the problem I’m left with. When I listen to these songs now, I try to hear them the way I used to, but I know I’m kidding myself. And while I’d never be so arrogant as to suggest that great songwriters like Paul Simon or Ian Anderson could have anything to learn from me, I’m just saying that I’m open to offers if they ever want to give me a call…

[Apologies again for the quality of the images, Margaret still being away. I know entire movies have been shot using iPhones; just not by me – obviously!]

10 comments to Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 3 – 12 August

  • Annie

    You mean to say the beautiful, detailed, maybe above me yokes go around to the BACK?.

    This is from a beginner gansey knitter, of cour

    The back, too, you’re sure, Girdon??

    • Gordon

      Hi Annie, yes, really-really. It’s one of the characteristic features of a Gansey that the front and back should be identical. The myth is that fishermen could get dressed in the dark, but there are several objections to this, the first of which is that herring fishermen put to sea in the afternoon, cast their nets, stayed out all night in their boats, then hauled in the catch next day and came home. (The second is, of course, what about their Y-fronts? Talk about getting your knickers in a twist!)

  • =Tamar

    Lovely work in a beautiful blue.
    Also, I think your words are at least as good if not better than the original. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of Bob Kanefsky – he said he has a songworm in his mind, that chews up songs and spits them out different. He had several albums recorded back in the day, because quite a lot of us liked his versions (including the authors of the original songs).

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    Actually, I like your lines better. Perhaps now I can listen to songs with your lines inserted–never knew that about cricket lines. For me the slip out the back, Jack is about back doors and all they connote in American terms. Friends, family, and those who were not meant to be seen or were dismissed ‘went out the back’ door. Wooden frame, screened top and bottom panels. Always a bit un-true on its coming and going. Yeah, they havent been like in most places now for a loong time, but memory is mistress.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, it’s the same in Wales, and the north of England. The front door was for strangers, and visitors: the back door was family and friends. Burglars, of course, used the window.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar, no I hadn’t heard of him, thanks for the tip – I’ll follow it up when I’m next near the Internet and done speakers. Luckily, no one has offered me an album deal (yet…)!

  • Lois

    That’s a beautiful shade of blue and shows the pattern off to advantage. Don’t you ever get knitter’s cramp in the hands?

    I’ve been playing around with Fair Isle and fancy stitches, but I feel the gansey urge coming on.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I don’t usually get cramp, no. I don’t usually knit for a long time without taking a break, but I’ve also schooled myself to knit a little more loosely than I used to, which seems to help. (I do have a couple of spectacular calluses, though!)

  • Kersti

    There’s a term for this kind of mishearing – it’s a mondegreen, as in:

    They have slain the Earl of Moray
    And Lady Mondegreen

    I love them too.

  • Gordon

    Thanks for that, Kersti, very interesting! I hadn’t come across the term, but I like it – that’s exactly what I’m talking about. One of my favourites is mishearing the start of the Star-Spangled Banner as “Jose, can you see…?”

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